We cannot fund our way out of this chaos

ROCKINGHAM-How can Rockingham, where I live, or any town in Vermont, continue to carry the unbearable and unsustainable burden of taxes here?

How can our Legislature create and bring new taxes each year to the table off of which we all must eat? It is unconscionable.

How can our local boards knowingly raise the tax rate year after year, hurting our elderly and our working poor still further? It is shameful.

The answer is a lack of due diligence, a lack of care, and an apathy toward their fellow citizens.

As a person who has served on boards in my community and on state committees, I have been present as budgets were proposed, argued, revised, and finalized. I have argued passionately for level funding, or for using the "fat" of previous years' budgets to eliminate the need to raise taxes.

Call it what you want - fat, bloat, padding, building in a margin-of-error buffer, end-of-year unrestricted fund balance - it's there, and some of it comes from building in monies needed for specific line items that do not get used, or fully realized, in any given tax year.

Budget line items are inflated, whether it's from positions that do not get filled annually (wages and benefits are 70–75% of every budget) or from building in insurance benefits for people they may hire (calculated as a family plan of the highest level, costing the most). Some due to actual costs, yes, but many only as pure speculation. Planning a budget of any kind takes far better forecasting than I, as a citizen of Vermont, have seen.

Our school systems are bloated. Student numbers continue to edge downward annually, yet our cost per pupil continues to sail far past state averages. Again, wages and benefits are around 75% of each year's budget.

Based on the academic anemia of some Vermont school districts, what results do we get for what we pay? Poor reading, spelling, and comprehension skills, to name a few.

Vermont is also in crisis over the failing condition of education's infrastructure and our buildings, yet school boards have kicked the can down the road year after year in favor of higher wages. Students cannot be productive in a building that leaks or is falling down around them.

This is demolition by neglect. School staff must understand that they hold some or most of the best-paid positions in their small towns, far exceeding the wages of the taxpayer who must fund them.

We cannot fund our way out of this chaos. These challenges must be reenvisioned and tackled together. From every level of government, we are drowning in a sea of deficits. Existing citizens are leaving or downsizing, reducing communities' ability to pay.

We must be mad to think we will fill our population ranks with millionaires or refugees ready to pay the exorbitant cost of being a Vermonter. Will the last person leaving the state please turn out the light?

Many historic factors have reduced the population of Vermont to where it is now. Families who have stayed for many generations must rethink their love of the state over the abyss of poverty by taxation.

Budgets are getting voted down. Citizens are sending a clear signal to reduce costs and find more creative ways to get things done.

What are we leaving our children if we cannot afford to live here ourselves?

Vermont, take heed.

Deborah Wright


This letter to the editor was submitted to The Commons.

This piece, published in print in the Voices section or as a column in the news sections, represents the opinion of the writer. In the newspaper and on this website, we strive to ensure that opinions are based on fair expression of established fact. In the spirit of transparency and accountability, The Commons is reviewing and developing more precise policies about editing of opinions and our role and our responsibility and standards in fact-checking our own work and the contributions to the newspaper. In the meantime, we heartily encourage civil and productive responses at [email protected].

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates